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| 1 minute read

Warning or over-warning: should high-protein drinks and supplements warn about a rare disorder called ornithine transcarbamylase (OTC) deficiency?

I am a regular user of protein supplements. I've never thought for a second that my use could cause me, or anyone else, to die of a metabolic condition like OTC. That was also true for Rohan Godhania, a 16-year-old from London, who fell ill and died after drinking a protein shake which triggered a breakdown of ammonia in his body causing it to build up to lethal levels. Rohan had OTC, a rare metabolic condition which had gone undiagnosed until the time of his autopsy. Now, Rohan's family, his coroner, and some public health agencies in the UK are calling for health warnings to accompany high-protein drinks and supplements about the dangers of OTC and related disorders, along with recommendations for ammonia screenings. 

Tragic cases like Rohan's call into question the practicality of food and beverage labels being able to display specific information about every rare disease or condition. The label on the product Rohan consumed advised to "seek medical advice if on medication before use" and "keep out of reach of children" -- which would include anyone under the age of 18 years like Rohan. Indeed, the label on the protein powder I use advises me to consult with my physician before using. I didn't, of course, and just about everyone else I know that uses protein supplements does not follow this advice either. Which begs the question of whether a warning would have done any good in preventing Rohan's death.

I don't profess to have the right answer. Should manufacturers warn in this instance, or is this an unfortunate example of over-warning? And if you choose to warn, what does it need say to modify Rohan's conduct and possibly save his life? These are the questions that baffle those of us who practice in the food and beverage space. All that said, T's and P's to Rohan's family. I cannot imagine losing a child like this. 

After a death of a schoolboy, the UK Food Standards Agency is to look at whether labels on high-protein drinks and supplements should feature a warning about the potentially fatal risk of a sudden spike in protein for people with undiagnosed disorders.